Ten Lessons on Presentation Skills from a Local Pastor

Easter Sunday.  Westgate Chapel was packed to the rafters for second service, 11:30 am.   I reckon most people like to sleep in.  The music was inspiring, contemporary and lively.  Not why I came.  I want to see Pastor Alec Rowlands preach.  He is right in my backyard, in his late sixties, seasoned, savvy, fun and inspiring.  As I watched and listened to his message, I asked a single question, “Why?”  “Why was he so good?”   I opened my iPhone to a new notes page and captured Ten Lessons on Presentation Skills.

  1. He uses self-effacing humor with himself as the punchline.  “Whenever I am driving I come up with great ideas.  I told Rita (his wife), I have a great idea!  I shared it with her.  She said, ‘I told you that a month ago!’ “  The women in the church love him.
  2. He delivers a passionate plea to make his case (like an attorney in a courtroom) and then pauses for effect. In the silence you can hear the wheels of the congregation turning.  Lives are changing.
  3. He uses his hands well. His gestures match the words he uses.  It’s congruent.  It’s effective.  It’s smooth and flows.
  4. He asks rhetorical questions and pauses for effect.  He waits….for the question to sink in.  We consider it.  We agree with his argument.  It’s logic and emotion.
  5. He tells stories with great enthusiasm (what pastor or rabbi doesn’t?).  No surprise there.  The secret is to modulate volume and intensity during the telling of the tale.  When he lowers his voice, he moves closer to us as if he is letting us in on a secret.  We lean forward.  Simple.
  6. He goes into the audience and picks on someone in a warm and friendly way.  Interaction is very effective.  He asks the audience to raise their hand.  We do so every time.  We are a part of his talk.
  7. He quotes from source material (The Bible) and then proves his point using stories both 3rd person and/or 1st person.  The quote + story formula is very sticky.  We remember the story, we just might remember the quote.  In all fairness, everyone has a copy of the book we are referencing.  Hmmm….
  8. He makes even eye contact throughout his sermon (presentation).  We all feel like he talking to us one to one.  By facing the audience stage right or pointing to the balcony (Bruce Springsteen does this every concert, making a point to thank them, so smart) we feel included.
  9. He tells 1st person stories in equal measure to the 3rd Person Bible Stories.  There is a nice balance which makes him so much more human.  It connects him to his audience.
  10. He ends on a high note, right on time.  He NEVER goes over the understood time limit.  Speakers who go over their allotted time alienate their audience.  It’s better to end a couple of minutes early and leave them wanting more.  I save my most popular stories for the end. So does Alec.

The causes of successful presentations are everywhere if you are looking for them.  Great presentations can be found concerts (Springsteen), courtrooms (Johnnie Cochran), politicians (Bill Clinton), comedy clubs (Jim Gaffigan) and of course, church.  There is probably a great presenter in your hometown.  Take a lesson or ten from a pastor.  Is it time to go the church?  You sinner you!

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